Introducing The Ugly Sweater Chronicles: DV Survivors Unraveling for Empowerment
Let Me Spin A Yarn For You
The dreaded ugly sweater. Most of us have had at least one. Some of us, several. Someone forced us to wear these sweaters to appease someone else’s feelings or desires. It was an expectation. An itchy obligation. It made us uncomfortable and unhappy, but they told us it was selfish to think that way. Instead, we should focus on all the work someone else put into it, regardless of our own feelings.
Toxic relationships and domestic violence are like the ugly sweaters we live instead of wear. They can be both addictive and inescapable. Our motivations are as unique and varied as we are. Our abusers whisper in our ear that no one else will ever want us, we don’t deserve better. Hell, we don’t even deserve them.
And then, sometimes, the only person whispering we should stay, that we don’t deserve any better, that THIS is our reality… is ourselves. And so we settle into our ugly sweaters.
We often put the pressure on ourselves. We want to please the giver of our ugly sweater. Even at our own expense. Even if that expense might be our life.
Where Do You Begin?
When you start looking for hope, you’ll be looking for a bonfire. Somewhere you can throw that entire sweater and just let it burn. But hope isn’t a bonfire. Hope is a single loose thread. You gently tug it, slowly at first, but faster as your courage builds. And from beneath the frayed hem, you realize you are wearing your favorite shirt. It’s the one you picked for yourself, and now you want nothing more than to show it off.
But first, you must unravel that suffocating sweater. Recognize your worth and tug. Find your external support and tug. Gain the tools you need to be independent and tug. And you will do the tugging. We spend so much time under the thumb of our abusers, being controlled and bossed around that when people tell us, “Just leave,” it triggers a defensiveness. Unraveling is empowering.
The Beginning of an End
I realized I was wearing my favorite shirt under an ugly sweater in 1997. Two months into what became a decade and a half of hell. I was young, naive, and pregnant. I let external obligations and fear keep me in place. I didn’t want to be another single, teen mom. I was scared he would hurt me. I had few resources. I had no confidence. He often played on my empathy then, reserving his temper for when I got “out of line.” He would tell me that if I left he would kill himself. Did I want to be the reason my unborn son would grow up without a father?
I spent years trying to appease him. Trying to have a cohesive family despite my daily fear and misery. I settled into that mindset of, “This is my life, I should make the best of it.”
In 2009, I found my first loose thread and tugged a little. My freedom was scary and short lived. I recently came across a memory on Facebook that referred vaguely to that instance. I felt a surge of sadness but also pride for the girl who wrote it. I didn’t get out that time, but I knew I wanted to. It was a step in the right direction.
Who Decides the Ending?
In the fall of 2011, I was done. My ex-husband had made multiple attempts on my life. He had chased me with a gun and swung a hammer at me. There were several incidences while I was sleeping, waking up to a knife at my throat or a pillow above my head. I realized with finality that week, he would eventually kill me. I am not proud of it, but I considered killing myself. For a moment, I let my fear rule my logic and saw no way out. But at the very least, I could deprive him of the opportunity to end my life. But, my kids needed me. Who else would love them and care for them like I would?
During that time I was playing an online RPG. I met people on there, and I opened up about my situation. I found myself invited to share a home with a woman in another state, and I impulsively accepted. It was a risky decision but my back was against a wall, and I knew what my outcome would be if I stayed.
I packed up my car in the dead of night and prayed that this was not one of the nights he spitefully did something to my car so it wouldn’t run. My oldest son helped me pack. It was terrifying sneaking past my ex-husband as he slept in the living room. When I woke the younger kids in the morning I dressed them and said everyone had missed their buses. As we piled into the car he stumbled into the doorway, and my heart skipped a beat. If he approached the car he would see it was packed. He would know I was trying to leave. He waved and slammed the door closed.
The journey out of Florida was a nonstop state of panic for me. I had several mishaps which I will detail another time, but I eventually found my way to my destination. I was a single mom with three kids in a new place where I knew no one. It’s funny how often we stay in a situation because we think it is best for our kids. It wasn’t until we got settled that I saw them all start to blossom and realized how much our situation had really weighed on them. That was seven years ago as of this writing. The last seven years have not been easy. I have had ups and downs. Easy days and hard lessons.
It’s Harder Before It’s Easier
One of the things that has become frighteningly clear is that getting out is not the only obstacle we face when it comes to violent relationships. Getting out is the first step but the second hardest part. The first hardest part of escaping domestic violence is getting up. Getting on our feet, getting a new home, jobs, security. These hard to conquer obstacles are why so many women get sucked back into violent relationships. And often, once back they face tragic consequences.
Once you are out in the world, resources can be hard to find. For those who were SAHMs, finding work may be harder. There are so many circumstances we have to work against in order to thrive. And when it seems impossible, it is easy to be lured back into the home you helped build. Promises of a better life can candy coat painful memories. And there is the task of weighing the hardships. Learning to be independent against the hardship of walking on eggshells to keep a semblence of life together.
Over these seven years I have worked many jobs, none of which used my schooling because it didn’t transfer to this state. I worked in warehouses and gas stations. Anything that kept a roof over my kid’s heads. I also worked furiously to build OWS Ink, LLC (Our Write Side). OWS has been my rock since inception. I draw endless strength from my team and our work there. I am confident that over time this company will provide me with the means to always be independent. And, it will provide me with the means to help others. And that brings us to The Ugly Sweater Chronicles.
What Is Your Part In This?
The Ugly Sweater Chronicles is a project of my own, and I have not developed all the details or contacted any organizations. I plan to collect stories from other survivors to share on my website. These stories may be anonymous, depending on the requests of those submitting. The purpose here is to help shed light, not to the general public, but to each other. We have been there, we are there, we aren’t alone. Maybe a story will spark the courage YOU need. Maybe a story will trigger a solution you didn’t see. If all you get from these is a cathartic outlet, or a sense of support, then we have made an impact here.
I will continue to post fictional stories on my Patreon that follow the theme of Darker Daze. These are stories inspired by horrific realities. I will set aside a portion of my income from Patreon throughout 2019 with the goal of donating to one or two organizations in October 2019, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
I have my eye on two organizations, but I am still researching. I want to make an impact with organizations that are helping with the obstacles of getting up. A shop in Pennsylvania offers gift certificates to women in local shelters so they can get clothing. Many times, we leave with nothing more than the clothes on our backs. Another organization focuses on education, career training, and job placement. We don’t just need to know we can get out. We need to know we can access the tools and resources we need to not only survive, but to thrive.
With every post shared on my website and every story shared on my Patreon I would like to include links to reputable organizations that are making real impacts in their communities. I will collect this information to share with people as needed. Once I have collected enough information, I will begin organizing by location and add it to a page on my website for easy reference. If you know of any such organizations, please share that with me.
If you would like to share your story on this site, please fill out the form below. I will edit for grammar and spelling but I will not change your story in any way here.
My ugly sweater is a pile of yarn and painful memories. Now, let’s unravel yours.
Until next time, scribe happy and stay sassy,